After three years of planning, cancellations, and a series of incredible challenges, a team of Ukrainian students mentored by MacEwan University students travelled – against all odds – to participate in the National Model United Nations Conference (NMUN) in New York from April 3 to 7.

Since February 2019, the Canada Ukraine Model UN project has used videoconferencing to connect students from the MacEwan UN Club with students from the National University Kyiv Mohyla Academy and the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv. In June 2019, a delegation of MacEwan students travelled to Ukraine to prepare the Ukrainian team to participate in the National Model UN conference in Erfurt, Germany, in December 2019 (where the Ukrainians won two awards). 

The plan was for the MacEwan and Ukrainian delegations to meet again in March 2020 at the NMUN in New York – the world’s largest and oldest ongoing university-level Model UN conference. But COVID-19 made that impossible. 

“For two years, the pandemic stood in the way,” says Larisa Hayduk, director of MacEwan’s Ukrainian Resource and Development Centre (URDC), who helped build this partnership. “And then a war.”

Although university administrators in Ukraine initially cancelled the trip to New York, Hayduk says they ultimately decided that it was crucial to participate in the conference and bring Ukrainian voices to the event. Together with the students, they made the harrowing journey through their war-torn country, passing through military checkpoints to access flights out of Warsaw. 

Despite having a great honour to take part in a world conference alive for the first time at NMUN, I see my mission in raising awareness about the Russian-Ukrainian war on each and every platform.
Olha Tolmachova

Before Russia began its attack on Ukraine on February 24, Olha Tolmachova, a second-year student at Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, planned to use her NMUN experience to tackle economic issues exacerbated by the coronavirus crisis. Instead, she focused her time in New York on educating as many people as possible.

“Despite having a great honour to take part in a world conference alive for the first time at NMUN, I see my mission in raising awareness about the Russian-Ukrainian war on each and every platform,” said Tolmachova, who studies ethics, politics and economics.

While in New York, the Ukrainian students and their faculty advisor, Dr. Halnya Portsyk, held a press conference, sharing their statements about Russia’s war of aggression on Ukraine. They also met with the Ukrainian permanent representative to the United Nations and participated in a panel discussion about the situation in Ukraine and what the world might do next.

Dr. Halnya Portsyk

Dr. Halnya Portsyk shares her first-hand account of what is happening in Ukraine during a panel discussion on the first day of the NMUN Conference.

In her first-hand account, Dr. Protsyk, head of Ukrainian Catholic University's International Office, spoke about the lessons to be learned from the human suffering in Ukraine.

“One of them should be an examination of our conscience,” she said. “What happened to us that we, the global academic community, were able to overlook and neglect the growing darkness in Russia? And what is more important, is what we as united academia can do now and in the future."

She closed her comments with a call for academics to, “Stand with Ukrainians, stand with democracy, with our strong civic identity — not just on social media, but also in your work. Let us continue to create meaning in a manner inclusive of Ukrainian identity.”

With the conference now ended, the Ukrainian delegation finds itself spread across two continents – some students will continue their studies or seek work in the U.S. and Canada. Others are looking for study options in other parts of Europe and two students, says Hayduk, have returned to Western Ukraine to volunteer.

MacEwan NMUN delegation

Dr. Chaldeans Mensah (left) with members of the MacEwan NMUN delegation, who represented the United Kingdom.

The MacEwan delegation, including Hayduk, Dr. Chaldeans Mensah and six of the university’s students, are now back in Canada. The team brought home an Outstanding Delegation award – the NMUN’s highest honour – but Hayduk says she feels comfortable speaking for the entire group, saying that much more came from the experience.  

“We saw how incredibly challenging it was for these Ukrainian students and faculty to represent their country while wondering if their families were safe back home. But they did it. They were recognized, heard and supported,” she says. “NMUN is the community of future leaders and these Ukrainian young people are future diplomats. They are the future of Ukraine.” 

The Ukrainian Resource and Development Centre continues to work with MacEwan’s four partner universities in Ukraine: National University Kyiv Mohyla Academy, Ukrainian Catholic University, Ternopil National Medical University, and Lviv National Music Academy. Numerous efforts and plans are underway to deliver humanitarian aid, engage in campaigns against disinformation and work to welcome future MacEwan students from Ukraine through the university’s international office. 


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